The Tube Fly


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Tying tube flies focusing particularly on fly tying on Needle Tubes, ultra slim stainless steel tube fly tubes developed for salmon, steelhead and sea trout fly fishing

Tube Fly History

The origins of the tube fly are unclear. It is said that a type of tube fly – dressed on a hollow quill – was used by native North Americans fishing for west coast salmon more than a century ago. Tube flies were in use here in Britain before the Second World War.  Alexander Wanless, an enthusiastic advocate of what he called “thread line fishing”, a method he developed for presenting light baits or flies to trout and salmon using a fixed spool spinning reel, described his own specially adapted salmon flies for threadline use in his books on the subject, “Thread Line Fly Fishing for Salmon” and ”The Angler and the Thread Line” as early as the nineteen thirties. These included salmon flies dressed on hollow barrel leads, designed to be armed with a “sliding tail hook”, a single hook in Wanless’s early flies, “so that when a fish is hooked the fly will slide up the line out of harm`s way or rather to prevent it from levering the small hook out of the salmon`s jaw”. Charles Playfair & Co, of Aberdeen, are thought to be the first company to make and sell tube flies commercially, around 1945. The tube flies they offered are said to have been created  by one of their fly dressers, Mrs Winnie Morawski, dressed initially on sections of feather quill, with the hook fixed inside the hollow quill. The later use of plastic tubing made the tube fly more durable and, combined with a free swinging hook, commonly a treble hook, at the tail, helped eliminate the problem of leverage associated with longer salmon flies, which were known to cause the loss of many hooked fish through the loosening of the hook hold during play. In the post war period, developments in the design of salmon flies continued apace, including the adaptation of all kinds of tubing for the making of salmon tube flies.

The Tube Fly Today

In recent years, there have been many innovations in fly patterns and designs of fly on both sides of the Atlantic, for Atlantic salmon fishing, Pacific salmon and steelhead fishing, together with those intended for sea trout fishing here in Britain and Ireland. Whatever his chosen quarry, the modern fly fisherman has a great many weapons at his disposal, ranging from the more traditional flies dressed on single, double or treble hooks; snake flies and needle flies; and a whole range of tube flies utilising a variety of materials, including tungsten, copper, brass, stainless steel, aluminium and various types of plastic, often used in conjunction with various attachments, such as turbo discs, diving vanes, cone heads and spinheads.

Some Tube Flies

A small selection of salmon tube flies dressed on fine stainless steel needle tubes

Sunburst Cascade Tube Fly

Bucktail Tube Fly

Magus Tube Fly

Orange Claret Tube Fly
Furnace Shrimp Tube Fly Spring Green Tube Fly

The tube fly then has proven a most versatile weapon in the fly fisher's armoury. It has found its way, over the years, into the fly boxes of fishermen worldwide, from Alaska to Russia, whether they are after Atlantic salmon and sea trout or Pacific salmon and steelhead. For early and late season salmon fly fishing on the rivers of the UK, the traditional salmon fishermen's fly box will include a range of heavy tubes flies, dressed on brass and copper tubes of varying lengths, or flies incorporating cone heads of tungsten or brass, fished off high density lines, to get the fly down quickly to a good depth to cover the salmon in their cold water lies. He is also likely to have a selection of the smallest of plastic tube flies for floating line grilse fishing in the shrunken highland streams in the dry summer months. In between he is likely to carry a range of tube flies in all shapes, sizes and materials, sufficient to meet the wide variety of water and weather conditions likely to be met on our salmon and sea trout rivers throughout the fishing season. The tube fly has indeed proven a great success, for a variety of species and fly fishing situations.

Needle Tube Flies

Initially, though, it was in the possibilities presented by the tube fly as a lure, not so much for salmon, but for summer sea trout that my main interest lay, an interest keenly shared by the late Dave Wallbridge, with whom I spent much of the last decade collaborating in the development of fine stainless steel tube flies for night sea trout fishing. Our efforts would lead ultimately to the development of the ultra slim stainless steel Needle Tube Fly.


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